Juvenile sentencing changes

MASON CITY, Iowa –  Some young people in Iowa may have a chance at a lesser sentence, thanks to a ruling Friday by the Iowa Supreme Court.

The justices, though divided, are saying no to mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles, and now those offenders must be re-sentenced, if they were convicted in the state as adults, and awarded mandatory minimum sentences before 2013.

Mason City Attorney Joel Yunek, says he wasn’t surprised when he heard about the Iowa Supreme Court decision, but he’s not happy with those in Des Moines making this call.

“In recent years, the legislature has under taken a lot of responsibility. Saying they can judge better from Des Moines what you should do with your criminal population. I think that’s a mistake,” said Yunek.

Their most recent decision is that juveniles cannot be given mandatory minimum sentences. They want to make sure judges really take a look at the offenders’ behavior, the environment they were surrounded in, among other factors.  While Yunek doesn’t necessarily agree with the Iowa Supreme Court weighing in on this topic for local courts, he does like that a variety of factors are considered, before a juvenile is sentenced.

“You got to consider the whole picture. You can’t just automatically do it like that.  You got to consider the fact that they are juveniles. They need to start considering grades, teacher records, and juvenile record,” said Yunek.

Their juvenile record could include having spent time with someone like Michele Olthoff, with the Juvenile Correctional Services in Mason City. She says she’s happy to see the change.

“It was very well written. I think this will give judges an opportunity to take into account all of the factors that led a child to make a criminal decision,” said Olthoff.

Olthoff says, on a daily basis, she sees how much a child’s decision-making skills can be easily influenced, but she says hopefully, no matter what changes are made to how long a young offender’s punishment is, they’ll learn.

“We expect children to make mistakes as they’re growing up, and we also expect them to learn from those mistakes and to become law abiding citizens.”

More than a 100 cases in the state will now have to be resentenced.

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